Summary and book reviews of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

By Ayelet Waldman

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2006,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2007,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

With wry candor and tender humor, acclaimed novelist Ayelet Waldman has crafted a strikingly beautiful novel for our time, tackling the absurdities of modern life and reminding us why we love some people no matter what.

For Emilia Greenleaf, life is by turns a comedy of errors and an emotional minefield. Yes, she's a Harvard Law grad who married her soul mate. Yes, they live in elegant comfort on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But with her one-and-only, Jack, came a stepson—a know-it-all preschooler named William who has become her number one responsibility every Wednesday afternoon. With William, Emilia encounters a number of impossible pursuits—such as the pursuit of cab drivers who speed away when they see William's industrial-strength car seat and the pursuit of lactose-free, strawberry-flavored, patisserie-quality cupcakes, despite the fact that William's allergy is a figment of his over-protective mother's imagination.

As much as Emilia wants to find common ground with William, she becomes completely preoccupied when she loses her newborn daughter. After this, the sight of any child brings her to tears, and Wednesdays with William are almost impossible. When his unceasing questions turn to the baby's death, Emilia is at a total loss. Doesn't anyone understand that self-pity is a full-time job? Ironically, it is only through her blundering attempts to bond with William that she finally heals herself and learns what family really means.

Chapter 1

Usually, if I duck my head and walk briskly, I can make it past the playground at West Eighty-first Street. I start preparing in the elevator, my eyes on the long brass arrow as it ticks down from the seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth floor. Sometimes the elevator stops and one of my neighbors gets on, and I have no choice but to crack the carapace of my solitude, and pretend civility. If it's one of the younger ones, the guitar player with the brush of red hair and the peeling skin, say, or the movie executive in the rumpled jeans and the buttery leather coat, it's enough to muster a polite nod of the head. The older ones require more. The steel-haired women in the self-consciously bohemian dresses, folds of purple peeping from ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
For Emilia Greenleaf, life is by turns a comedy of errors and an emotional mine field. Yes, she's a Harvard Law grad who married her soul mate. Yes, they live in upper-class comfort on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But with her one-and-only, Jack, came a stepson—a know-it-all preschooler named William whose greatest pleasure seems to lie in torturing Emilia. Because of William, Emilia has learned about a number of impossible pursuits, such as the pursuit of cab drivers who speed away when they see William's industrial-strength car seat, and the pursuit ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

How should the reader side? How much sympathy should we have for Emilia? How much hurt is it acceptable for her to inflict in her pain, and on who? ... At the end of this heartfelt and well-paced novel nothing tangible has changed; Emilia still misses Isabel, still finds William's questions trying, still finds it a challenge to cope with the ex-wife; but she has survived and grown through her grief, having been transformed into someone who can appreciate the "accidental beauty" of life in both the good and bad moments.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (661 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Magazine - Emily Nussbaum

The result might've been mere fluff like The Nanny Diaries. Instead, Waldman achieves something a bit better: a smart and finally affecting portrayal of a woman working her way out of her own grandiose self-image into something like real love.

The Washington Post - Kim Edwards

Emilia's voice is terrific -- sharp, witty, funny, resilient, sarcastic, passionate and very angry. She derides support groups, pushes away friends, tries the nearly unbelievable patience of all who love her until, at a crucial moment, Jack finally says, "It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, Emilia. Isabel's death doesn't entitle you to do and say whatever the hell you want, to hurt whomever you want."

The San Francisco Chronicle - Lynn Andriani

We watch her change from an immature, self-centered recluse whose relationship with her husband almost combusts to a loving wife and stepmother who finally learns to recognize grace, finding it when "something is more beautiful than we deserve, more elegant and lovely than it should be." And no matter Emilia's state (furious, resentful, at peace or otherwise), she's always sharp, wickedly funny, opinionated and cheerfully bitter, lending depth and energy to this wise, entertaining book.

Library Journal - Robin Nesbitt

...an entertaining standalone novel that looks at how a stepmother copes with this role while trying to become a mother herself. For most public libraries.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review....a terrific adult story.

The London Times - Jane Shilling

If Love and Other Impossible Pursuits had started life as a film, it would have been a straightforward, uplifting account of an upper-middle-class family of essentially well-meaning people struggling to come to terms with the ugly imperfection of family break-up. As writing, however, it is considerably darker than its racy, pacy style suggests.

The Independent (UK) - Marianne Brace

For all its slickness, this novel has poignant moments - Emilia lactating at her baby's funeral; William, caught in the crossfire of an adult row, standing "hands balled up in fists and pressed into his cheeks". Waldman conveys Emilia's crippling grief and guilt powerfully. How can Emilia forgive other children for living while her own daughter is "nothing but a frozen memory, stiff and cold, her tongue curled out of the corner of her mouth, her breath forever stilled in her chest"? After all, she's a mother.

Author Blurb Sherman Alexie, author of Ten Little Indians
I read this book in one sitting while lying on my favorite couch. And I'll read it again on a future road trip. And I'll read it for a third time in the bathtub. Ayelet Waldman is that good.

Author Blurb Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon
This novel is, to quote a favorite song, 'sly, slick and wicked wicked wicked child.' It's wickedly funny in the minute details of contemporary life and love and parenting, but it's sly the way Waldman makes the reader laugh at the spectacle of a mother trying to manufacture love for one child, while making the reader tearful about the loss of another child. In the end, this novel conjures up the magical balance of both.

Author Blurb Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
Ayelet Waldman . . . looks past headlines and into the heart. What she finds there is hope for us all.

Author Blurb Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce
I thought the heroine was a great accomplishment .... And William is a triumph.

Author Blurb Julie Orringer, author of How To Breathe Underwater
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is the most riveting and sharply rendered novel I've read in years. Ayelet Waldman writes the language of grief with virtuosic fluency. Piercing, provocative, and unflinchingly honest, she makes us rapt participants in her protagonist's struggle with the most painful complications of marriage and motherhood. Once you begin this book, there will be no putting it down. Once you've finished, you will never forget it.

Author Blurb Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli
A beautiful novel. If you are not moved to tears, then your heart is carved from wood.

Reader Reviews
Maureen

Great Book
This was a very good book. A real page turner. I enjoyed the devleopment of the relationship between Emilia and William. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books that delve into relationships. The stepmother/stepchild was ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Once a year for the last five years, former public defender Ayelet Waldman has turned out a volume in her Mommy Track mystery series, starring Juliet Applebaum, ex-public defender and "self-employed mother". In mystery genre terms the Mommy Track books are best described as 'cozies' (mysteries with low body counts, with the murders usually committed off stage - or at least not graphically described!).

However, in 2003 she broke the mold and published Daughter's Keeper, a politically charged novel about a woman's battle with the American legal system's inflexible drug laws; and returned in 2006 with Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. In parallel to her books she's also an outspoken blogger and has written...

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